Jan 12, 2010

Review: Battlestar Galactica -- The Plan

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

The following review contains spoilers. Previous posts on the new "Battlestar Galactica" can be found here.

The makers of the makers fall before the child.
Accessing defense system.
Handshake. Handshake. Second level clear.
(It's begun.)
Accepting scan.
Love outlasts death.
(Been a long time coming.)
Apotheosis was the beginning before the beginning.
Devices on alert. Observe the procedures of a general alert.
The base and the pinnacle.
The flower inside the fruit that is both its parent and its child.

~ The Hybrid

"The center holds. The falcon hears the falconer," intones the hybrid, as she coordinates the attack that would annihilate the 12 colonies of Kobol. But, of course, the center does not hold, and the plan begins to unravel almost immediately.

This is not a prequel. "The Plan" does for "Battlestar Galactica" what Orson Scott Card's Shadow Series did for Ender's Game; tells the same story from the perspective of a different character. Cavil is the architect of the plan to destroy humanity. There are many copies, but this is primarily the story of two Cavils; the one on Galactica and the one on Caprica.

I had rather high hopes for "The Plan," having become very fascinated with Cavil by the end of "Battlestar Galactica,"  and I was not disappointed. The two hour movie explores, in more depth, the central conflict of the series; that between pure rationalism and the non-rational nature of spirituality and intuition. As I wrote in my review of the finale:

In the final season, the division between the spiritual and purely analytical came into sharp relief. The show's lone atheist, Cavil, is revealed to be hostile, not only to humans, but to his own humanoid form. Cavil: The name means "to quibble." But, it derives from the Latin calvi, which means "deception," as in "calumny." I would not be surprised if it is this darker aspect that the writers were alluding to, with the name. Dean Stockwell has done some of the finest work of his career in "Battlestar Galactica." Cavil is a perfectly drawn character; his rage cool, measured, and methodical. Only in flickers do we see the petulant, disappointed child, driven by hatred for the mommy who has doomed him to a life he thinks imperfect and foolish.

"The Plan" expands on this theme. Like the "Battlestar Galactica" series, it could easily be read as an indictment of atheism. Or, at least, of that strain of atheism that has so completely merged with scientism it has become as soul crushing a dogma as the religious authorities it condemns. Not surprisingly a lot of hard SF people don't get it. The Plan has been received with much of the same utter mystification that the spiritual tone of the finale was.

Cavil is a Satanesque figure; rebelling against his creators and turning his rage on humanity. Ultimately, we find him to be both epically tragic and pathetically small. To understand a key element of his backstory, see the previously discussed write-up by Mike Ragogna. Bear in mind that Cavil's given name was John.

Then there was the "angels" plot line from the old series that still needs resolution. Is it possible that when Ellen created "John," her first successful, human-looking cylon, that she named him in tribute to "John," the angel from the first series?

Could explain Cavil's twisted relationship with a displaced child named John, who, curiously, only he ever seems to see, and with whom he shares that classic Satanic symbol, an apple.

As we ultimately learned in the Battlestar Galactica series, there is a plan, but it's not Cavil's. He is merely a pawn in the unfolding scheme of some overarching and incomprehensible intelligence. Like the Architect in The Matrix Trilogy, Cavil learns that a purely rational construct is doomed to fail. Creation itself is irrational. It is dependent, after all, on the irrational mathematics of Phi. 

In "The Plan," however, we learn the backstory of Cavil of Caprica's epiphany, and break from his own plan. This plot arc actually articulates one of my favorite, classic arguments against atheism. A central tenant of atheism says that "God" cannot be proved empirically, and therefore cannot be believed in. This, of course, is scientism; "the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations." The classic rebuttal is simply this: Can love be proved? Cavil of Caprica learns something which alters his perceptions and moves him to endorse a truce with humanity; that "love outlasts death." Love is inexplicable, powerful, eternal, and undeniable, when experienced, but cannot be proved empirically.

"The Plan," while drawing heavily from old footage and artful splicing, is a very worthwhle addition to the critically acclaimed new "Battlestar Galactica" series. It's smart, literate, and replete with fascinating visual allusions and symbols. (Watch, in particular, for the baby carriages, on Caprica, that look like some bizarre hybrid of ziggurats and mummies.) Highly recommended.

The Second Coming
by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all around it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

"The Plan" made its television debut on the SyFy Channel, Sunday, February 10th, and will reair Fri. 1/15, 8:00am, Tue. 1/19, 11:30pm, and Fri. 1/22, 4:30pm. It is also available in the bookstore.

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